Reflection on a Book: Think Like An Artist By Will Gompertz

I cribbed the idea for reading this book from Inger’s Summer Reading List.

The subtitle for the book is “… and Lead a More Creative, Productive Life.” The book is divided into chapters that cover traits that the author states that artists need to succeed, and ends with some suggestions for improving the education system in schools, and of encouraging creativity in the workplace.

One hard truth to be faced in the book, was that artists need to be enterprising, self-promoters and networkers to become popular. This strikes me as being true (examples such as Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst spring to mind). The world is unlikely to beat a path to your door, but it is not a pleasant prospect to know that a lot of your time is likely to be spent on promotion and marketing rather than making art. Of course, if your work is not exhibited and promoted, how would anyone know about it? There is a risk to be taken in exposing your work to the public, other artists and critics (they might not like it!), but without the recognition and validation of others, what is the art for? (See this thread on the OCA Forum for a lively discussion on this topic).

Other sage advice includes not being afraid to take chances, ‘failures‘ can be thought of as learning opportunities that lead to new experimentation. This links back to the Learning Cycle discussed in the Introduction to Studying in HE


consulted 06/09/16

This cycle of behaviours is also relevant to the coursework I am doing at present, where, having made some stitched paper samples, I have been reflecting on their success before drawing conclusions and cycling around again to ‘active experimentation’.

Gompertz also underlines the need for researching others’ work, focusing on your own interests and passions and experimenting. As he puts it: “Be Curious“. Any experience (such as travel) can be a potential inspiration, and the more knowledge one has about a subject, the greater the weight and meaning resulting art works will have.

Another tip is to combine two different fields, materials or processes to produce new and interesting work. (An example that I have come across online is metamaterials that may use virtual reality technology blended with textiles to produce an ‘invisibility’ textile).

This certainly does seem to offer a rich seam of investigation: science and art; computer games and textiles (thinking of a t-shirt with an embedded/playable computer game that I saw on TV last night!); electronics and textiles; a bag combined with a sat nav? – endless permutations of new ideas waiting to be discovered. Updated ways of using traditional techniques – such as ‘free range’ cross stitch, liberated from the confines of AIDA fabric, large, small, irregular and overlapping stitches can emerge; or combining embroidery with political or social messages. One example that I have come across is Kirsty Whitlock, a mixed media artist who uses embroidery, and recycled packaging in interesting ways to explore her take on contemporary issues.

Gompertz encourages ‘stealing’ other artists’ work, ie, making in-depth studies of their working methods, composition, techniques, chosen media, etc so that you can master these things yourself and go on to add your own, unique contribution to the genre.

He advocates a sceptical, questioning approach when developing creative work; followed by the use of personal judgement and educated decision-making to inform the work; reflecting on feedback received and using this to arrive at clear, pure ideas. To be critical and open to criticism. This harks back to the learning cycle discussed earlier, and seems to me to be a sensible and logical way to proceed.

Other issues discussed are:-

  • having a holistic as well as a detailed approach to work (not getting bogged down by detail, yet paying attention to it, while having an end goal in mind for the whole project or collection of art works);
  • the need for artists to ‘have an opinion‘. This seems to be a major consideration for work to be judged as important and relevant (like most people, I have particular interests and points of view on various topics, but have yet to work these into my art, so that is an area for future development);
  • being brave (again, the need to take risks, to say new things in new ways, which society may not yet be ready to accept or hear);
  • self-evaluation (the need to take stock of your output and re-balance or change direction where you deem it necessary).


An interesting and thought-provoking book, which has confirmed the ideas contained in the ‘learning cycle’; underlined the need for putting your ‘story’ and work ‘out there’; for continuing to research artists’ work and techniques; to think about what I want to say with my work; and to consider ways to make it more relevant and cutting edge.

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